DENVER | A Democrat-led state House committee has approved a Colorado right-to-die bill that would provide a legal option for the terminally ill to end their lives.
The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill on a 6-5 party-line vote late Thursday after hearing 10 hours of testimony. The legislation now goes to the full House for consideration, but faces an uphill battle if it reaches the Republican-controlled Senate. A committee there rejected the bill on a party-line vote on Wednesday.
For those facing imminent death, “to compound that by saying because of the society you live in you cannot choose the manner of that death — you must take what fate hands you — is to compound the cruelty. It’s inhumane,” said committee chair Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village.
Roland Halpern, of Compassion & Choices, gives testimony in favor of a bill sponsored by Colorado state senator Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, left, which would provide end-of-life options for terminally ill individuals, at the state Capitol, in Denver, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Tara Allgood, center, who lost her father the previous December to a brain tumor, cries as she listens to testimony from Melissa Brenkert, right, in favor of a bill sponsored by Colorado state senator Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, left, during a hearing of the Senate State, which would provide end-of-life options for terminally ill individuals, at the state Capitol, in Denver, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Colorado state senator Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, speaks during a hearing of the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee on a bill he is sponsoring, which would provide end-of-life options for terminally ill individuals, at the state Capitol in Denver, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. Merrifield has wanted to sponsor right-to-die legislation since he became a Colorado lawmaker in 2003, two years after his father died an agonizing death from pancreatic cancer. He was discouraged from doing so by party leaders but is doing so in 2016 because of a changed political landscape that emphasizes individual rights. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Opponents argued the bill would facilitate doctor-assisted suicide, especially with wrong terminal diagnoses, and they insisted existing hospice and palliative care for the dying is sufficient. Their arguments helped defeat a similar proposal last year.
“What this bill asks me as a physician is to look at my patients with sympathy rather than empathy,” said Dr. Robert Jotte, an oncologist at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers. “We can’t as a medical profession give up on these patients.”
John Lobitz, a retired Oregon physician, said the bill should be considered an extension of palliative care. “Sometimes the pain and suffering is beyond what palliative care can do, and I think these patients deserve a right to have a choice,” Lobitz said. He said he never prescribed lethal drugs under Oregon’s first-in-the-nation right-to-die law.
The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Michael Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Reps. Lois Court of Denver and Joann Ginal of Fort Collins. It requires that a mentally competent patient have a six-month prognosis and get two doctors to sign off after three requests for life-ending medication. It calls for safe storage of lethal drugs and recognizes that a patient can change his or her mind.
“The purpose is the same as last year: To provide comfort, both psychological and physical, to people in these final stages,” said Court.
Lawmakers asked pointed questions about tracking lethal drugs once they are prescribed, the influence doctors or family — wittingly or unwittingly — can have on patients’ decision-making, and the consequences for disabled patients suffering depression, among other issues.
Washington, Vermont and California have passed right-to-die laws. New York, Arizona and Maryland are among states considering legislation. Montana’s state Supreme Court has ruled that doctors could use a patient’s request for life-ending medication as a defense against any criminal charges.
James Anderson can be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jandersonap